When you married your husband, you probably already saw signs of what was to come: his mother always tossing in her two cents, then sneaking behind your back to make sure that her son, your fiancé, followed her demands. Or maybe she’d make comments about how you dressed or how you took care of her son.
It may have been easy to ignore what she was doing at first and hope that when you were married, she’d back off. But now, you’re in the middle of a nightmare. Your mother-in-law has turned into a monster-in-law! Do you jump ship and tell your husband, “Sorry, buddy, this wasn’t what I signed up for!” or do you find a way to live in harmony?
When the conflict arises
According to Melissa Pizaña-Cruz, certified life coach and head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University, common reasons for conflict between a mother and daughter-in-law could be the arrival of the first grandchild, living with the in-laws, and discipline or money issues.
She says most run-ins with the in-laws could be avoided if you don’t share a living space. “It’s more bearable if you see them every weekend. That way, you can control the issues,” she says.
Historically, if a woman lives with her mother-in-law, problems arise. Says Pizaña-Cruz, “The mother-in-law is like the queen of her kingdom but once her son’s wife comes along, the mother-in-law starts to feel like she needs to protect her territory and her rules should apply. The wife, on the other hand, will feel, ‘This is my husband and these are my children.’” So when it comes to how money is spent, how children are disciplined, and maybe even how food is cooked, it’s easy for conflict to arise.
Step into her shoes
Whenever family problems are concerned, it is very difficult to be objective, but Herald Cruz, Pizaña-Cruz’s husband of 18 years, certified life coach and co-head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University advises to try and switch perspectives and look at the situation from your mother-in-law’s point of view. “It will make a world of a difference,” he says.
Your mother-in-law may think she’s sharing the wisdom she has gained from her years of experience while you may take this as meddling. According to Cruz, “If you want a glimpse of what’s really happening, try to empathize a little bit and ask yourself what her intention is: ‘Is it to make my life difficult or does she have a different way of caring for my husband, me, and my children?’ If you look at it negatively, then every action is negative. If you look at it from a positive perspective, then it becomes positive.”
Mother-in-law as a blessingOnce you know that your mother-in-law isn’t out to make your life miserable (though, admittedly, this may not apply to all), Cruz encourages you to allow her to be part of your team. “She can be a gift to your family,” he says. “Try to welcome her and allow her to bring in the gift that she could bring to the family.”
Pizaña-Cruz agrees, “We tend to look at the negative side and we fail to see the gift of the mother-in-law. Usually, the so-called difficult mothers-in-law are the first ones to willingly take the kids at the drop of a hat.”
Get a system in place
Before you get the chance to experience any conflict with your in-laws, Cruz suggests, “For those couples starting off, it is ideal to establish your own family system. Discover the gifts of both your families of origin and then look at what you’d like to change. Be aware of the gaps of each family of origin. Try to create your own family system that will hold sacred and be unique on its own.”
This way, you will feel more secure and not so easily disoriented or hurt if one of your in-laws (not necessarily your mother-in-law), tries to rock the boat.
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Olivia Yao has been writing ever since she can remember. She has written for health, teen, parenting, and children's magazines. Her latest endeavor is being a mom to her three-year-old daughter—her toughest assignment yet.
For counseling and other inquiries, contact: Center for Family Ministries (CeFaM) Spiritual Pastoral Center, Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Loyola Heights, Quezon City . Telefax: 426-4285 Telephone no.: 426-4289 up to 92 Email: email@example.com.